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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Smokers can now be screened for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans

Dr. Stacy Moulton poses in front of a CT scanner.

Heavy smokers who are worried about lung cancer can now be screened for the disease locally with low-dose CT scans.

Medical Imaging of Fredericksburg, a partnership of Mary Washington Healthcare and Radiologic Associates of Fredericksburg, began offering the screenings last week. The Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center also offers the scans.

Medical Imaging’s program is aimed at current and former smokers, ages 55 to 75, who have smoked for 30 pack-years, the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years. Those with a history of lung cancer or a recent diagnosis of pneumonia are excluded.

The scans cost $325, usually paid by the patients. The program does not require a physician’s referral. One of the Medical Imaging radiologists discusses the findings with the patient the same day and provides follow-up advice if needed.

The screenings attempt to identify lung cancers at the earliest possible stage, when treatment can make a difference.

“The earlier the stage, the greater the chance for cure,” said Dr. Stacy Moulton, a radiologist at Medical Imaging.

Hospitals across the country started offering lung-cancer screenings this year after completion of the National Lung Screening Trial. The massive trial, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, found that low-dose CT scans led to earlier detection of lung cancers and reduced mortality from the disease, compared to chest X-rays.

The trial started in 2002 and involved more than 53,000 current or former heavy smokers. It found that low-dose CTs were better than chest X-rays at finding lung cancers early, leading to a 20-percent reduction in deaths from the disease.

One-fourth of the CT scans done during the study discovered suspicious spots or shadows on the patients’ lungs. Because of that, nearly 40 percent of the participants had to have additional tests, usually additional CT scans. Ninety-five percent of the retests were negative, meaning that the original findings were benign.

Lung cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The disease is expected to kill nearly 157,000 people in the U.S. this year. Smoking is a leading cause of lung cancer. More than 69,000 adults in the Fredericksburg region are smokers.

The screenings at Medical Imaging are done on a standard CT machine, Moulton said. The machine is adjusted to produce about 21 percent of the radiation produced during a regular CT scan.

(For more information about the screenings, see the story soon in the paper. Medical Imaging’s program coordinator is at 540/741-7644. A National Cancer Institute Q&A about the National Lung Screening Trial from the can be found here.)